Francis Schaeffer teaches in “A Christian Manifesto” that Christians have been busy fighting symptoms. We attack abortion. We attack sexual issues. We attack divorce. We attack pornography. Granted, all these issues, and in fact all issues period, need to be addressed in a loving and truthful way based on what God’s Word tells us. However, we have failed to address the cause of these symptoms. The underlying cause of these symptoms is a shift in world view. We have experienced a shift from a world view in which, however vaguely, most of us believed that God was the ultimate reality of the universe. The shift that has occurred is to a materialistic view of the world. I do not mean “materialistic” in the sense of consumerism, though consumerism is one of the symptoms of the type of materialism I am addressing. I mean materialism in the sense that the ultimate base of reality is impersonal energy. We have dissected the universe, attached a label to the parts, and when we put it back together again we find we have created a corpse! Like Frankenstein’s monster, we have assembled mankind (and the universe) out of parts from a graveyard, and expected that somehow man was no more than the sum of those parts. Then we stand amazed when the soul-less monster we have created begins to wreak havoc!
Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that when you treat a symptom rather than a cause, you drive the cause deeper into your body. It then manifests itself as something much worse than you began with. If you get a cold and simply suppress your cough, then it drives deeper into your chest and becomes pneumonia. If you treat only the symptoms of pneumonia, then it drives deeper and eventually becomes cancer. I would argue that we as the Church have been treating symptoms for so long that this materialistic worldview has spread like a cancer through our very bones! We are wholly unprepared to deal with the reality of a God that is here and now.
A Christian brother sent me a link to a blog by Father Stephen. I wholeheartedly recommend reading what both of these men have to say. Father Stephen says that the problem of Christianity is not that we don’t believe, but that we ship our experience off-shore. We behave as if all real spiritual activity takes place somewhere other than right here and right now. He continues to say:
Thus salvation is something accomplished in history (on the cross) or in the mind of God (a forensic or legal atonement) or anywhere other than here and now. Sacraments become memorials, a testimony to Divine Absence rather than Divine Presence. Initiation into the Church is accomplished by an “ordinance” which is simply viewed as a sign, a public act of obedience in which nothing happens (except perhaps in the off-shore location).
We have a schizophrenic view of God. We see a God of Holiness in the Old Testament. Then we see a God of Grace and Love in the New Testament. We can’t seem to wrap our heads around the fact that God’s Holiness is His Love and His Love is His Holiness! Even when we do manage to get the full image of God, we are still left with this idea of Him as our really big friend who lives a long way away, but who promises to make things good for us one day. We treat prayer as a last resort; a desperate act that only works on television or in Guideposts magazine. We think of angels as tiny little bits of our conscience, sitting on our shoulder arguing with a devil in red pajamas. We think of demons as subjects for scary movies, but not much more than that. As the French poet Baudelaire first pointed out, “la plus belle des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu’il n’existe pas!” (“The Devil’s best trick is to persuade you he doesn’t exist!”).
A friend of mine made a very good point about this. He said that this is, in a lot of ways, a problem of the American view of God. We have, as a nation, experienced unprecedented wealth. So, we view God as a God who gives us stuff. We base the worth of a person on the number and the cost of the things the has. We are obsessed with things we can touch. So, even though God is the God of all of reality, we think of Him in that off-shore location that Father Stephen spoke of. What’s more, we have a really difficult time with the Gospel. We want to add rules to follow. We want to make it about our own effort. We live in a nation that prides itself on the notion that anyone can, if she works hard enough, rise from poverty. A person can work, and sweat, and slave, and make something of himself. So, this idea of submitting…this idea that no matter how hard I try, it’s not good enough…this is nearly impossible for us to grasp. How could it be that the result of pride, and doing it myself, never asking for help, ends up with hell? How could it be that the result of saying, “I can’t do this! I need you! Please save me!” is really what makes us fully human? But it is. It is the beautiful paradox of the Gospel.
So what do we do about this? I feel like I’m being very harsh on the Church. But it is because I love the Church. And I believe that we have so many things right. But because of this love, I cannot help but draw attention to the places we find ourselves lacking. We are being taken to school by the new agers, the modern pagans, the taoist-witch-pantheists, when it comes to this understanding that we are separated from Divinity by only the thinnest of veils (and a veil that is really our own blindness to the fact that the veil was torn when Christ died on the cross). It is a shame. We have in God’s Word, the manual. We have the key to understanding how to navigate the supernatural. We have the key to understanding that the supernatural and the natural are not really separate. As E.E. Cummings so aptly wrote of humanity, we as the Church are “perpetually putting the secret of life in [our] pants and forgetting it’s there and sitting down on it.” We hold the keys. It is high time we dig them from the cracks in the sofa where we’ve lost them, and begin to put them to use!
John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” – Luke 3:16